Civil War

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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Our paid link will take you to Amazon's Blu-ray offering. Consumer note: I do not remember the Statue of Liberty being in the actual movie.

But Pun Son and I went to see it at BarnZ's in Barrington, on a less-than-large screen. Summary: It was a little bit better than OK.

The movie opens with the titular War being fought out in the streets of Brooklyn, with local authorities trying to keep a lid on a street demonstration, which eventually turns into carnage. It also throws together young aspiring photojournalist Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) with jaded photojournalist Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and her co-worker Joel (Wagner Moura). Brooklyn, they decide, is not where the real action is; they head down to D.C. to witness the final battle, as the insurgent "Western Forces" close in on the White House. Also tagging along with them is Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), an aged and cynical veteran correspondent.

On the way, they encounter plenty of violent anarchy. Which side is which? Who's shooting who? It becomes pretty clear that it doesn't matter. Lots of people are using the chaos to go on sprees of torture and murder.

But don't worry: once we get to D. C., the murders will be perpetrated by people with military equipment and uniforms.

I might as well point out that reactions to this movie are mixed. Spoilers abound in Tyler Cowens' look at the movie's politics; spoilers as well in Instapundit's aggregation of negative takes.

Newsflash: Kirsten Dunst looks a little haggard here. Understandable, given the context. But it's been nearly 30 years since she was in Jumanji, 22 years since Spider-Man, and … I guess we're all getting Up There. (She'll be 42 at the end of this month.)

Please Don't Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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I think it's fair to classify: this is a 92-minute high-budget Saturday Night Live sketch, except with a lot of words you can't say on TV. The movie's protagonists (played by Martin Herlihy, John Higgins, and Ben Marshall) are SNL writers, and they occasionally have small, bizarre, bits on the show. Cast members Bowen Yang (a major role) and Chloe Troast (minor role) appear in the movie.

The plot is (roughly) that three disrespected losers realize that, back in their youth, they discovered an artifact that contained a vital clue to locating the titular treasure, worth millions. But they only realize that in their adulthood. And they proceed to try to track it down. Along the way, they encounter two quirky park rangers, a weird cult led by a not-particularly-charismatic leader (that's Bowen Yang), and a creepy hawk. The skills they've accumulated over the course of their misspent lives occasionally turn out to be useful.

I admit: I laughed along the way. I mean:

"What's your favorite bagel?"

"Everything bagel with the stuff shaken off!"

Oh, God, I can't fight it. You're perfect, girl."

I'm not proud, but I stayed awake all the way through, and that's an accomplishment these days.

Road House

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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OK, the Official Pun Salad Rating of 4 stars to this movie is perhaps overly generous. But I was totally in the mood for a movie like this.

Heavily-muscled Jake Gyllenhaal plays Elwood Dalton, an ex-UFC fighter now making his living from less official bouts. In the amusing opening scene, he picks up prize money by default, because the guy we've just seen beat the crap out of someone takes one look at Dalton and says: nope. Dalton is spotted by the lovely Frankie, who's looking for a bouncer to restore a modicum of sanity to her bar (conveniently named "Road House") located on Florida's (fictional) Glass Key.

Dalton is affable and a gifted wisecracker, but we also learn that he is teetering on the edge of suicide, thanks to a bit of self-discovery we don't learn about until later in the movie. So he takes up Frankie's offer, has some fun taking out some violent biker trash, gets to know the offbeat and colorful inhabitants. But it turns out that Frankie's been keeping a key (heh) bit of information from him: a ruthless criminal, protected by the local cops, is behind all the Road House violence (well, most of it) and he will stop at nothing to carry out his evil designs.

The special effects and fight scenes are very impressive. Jake Gyllenhaal does his usual job of bringing believability and sympathy to his character. And, hey, Joaquim de Almeida plays… yep, another slimeball, but one with a smidgen of conscience.

Mean Girls

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

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I remember watching the original Mean Girls movie back in … whoa, was it that long ago? Yup, 2004. Pre-blog, so I only have my memory to fall back on, but I think I liked it. Apparently Tina Fey turned it into a Broadway musical, and that musical was turned into a movie, and now … here it is, a free-to-me-with-prepended-ads streamer on Paramount+.

And let me just make my perennial observation: I love Tina Fey. And when I say "love", I mean in a way that's completely inappropriate, given our age difference, her marital status, our incompatible social circles, probable vastly divergent political views, geographical separation, and a host of additional irreconcilable differences.

Way to go, Jeff Richmond.

Anyway, it's about Cady Heron, a smart student thrust into a generic American high school. Up until now, she's been schooled by her mom in Kenya (holy crap, that's Pam from The Office, I finally realized). But (fortunately?) her African zoological experience allows her to analyze the social dynamics of her classmates. Queen bee is Regina, the meanest of the mean girls, keeping her position through ruthless intimidation and gossip.

Cady inveigles her way into Regina's inner group. To complicate things, she develops feelings for her calculus classmate, Aaron. Who is Regina's discarded boyfriend. Trouble is brewing there.

Cady's pretty good at navigating the treacherous high school waters, but eventually Loses Sight of What's Really Important, giving rise to betrayal and comeuppance. Her fall is as meteoric as her rise was exponential (calc reference there, sorry). But is there still time for repentance and redemption? Come on, it's a comedy, sure there is.

And there's a lot of singing and dancing along the way. Huge production numbers, occasionally clever lyrics. Lindsay Lohan (the 2004 Cady) and Jon Hamm have cameos.

Last Modified 2024-03-19 10:44 AM EDT

Asteroid City

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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I tried to watch Asteroid City four separate times. I kept falling asleep. But I think over those four attempts, I "watched" the whole movie, so it counts. In any case, I'm giving up, and hope the next movie I try to stream will keep me awake.

It is star-studded: Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, Matt Dillon, Tilda Swinton, Margot Robbie, Willem Dafoe, Steve Carell, Adrien Brody, and others you may have heard of. The director, Wes Anderson, is kind of famed for having his actors recite their lines in deadpan, flat delivery. I think this, while occasionally amusing, contributes to the movie's soporific quality.

I may not have this exactly right, but the movie's outer framework is an old-style teleplay, and most of the movie operates inside that frame as how the play's cast and crew imagine it. And there, "Asteroid City" is a minor desert town, famed for the crater created long ago by that falling asteroid. It's also the site for a science fair/stargazing event. Which gets disrupted by an alien demanding his asteroid back.

The actors interact in not very interesting ways. There's a roadrunner. Ms. Johansson has a "nude scene" performed by a body double.

Last Modified 2024-02-28 7:39 AM EDT

The Holdovers

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Holdovers]

This movie is nominated for five, count 'em, five Oscars: Best Picture; Best Actor (Paul Giamatti); Best Actress (Da'Vine Joy Randolph); Best Original Screenplay; and Best Achievement in Film Editing.

I will quibble with that nomination for editing. It's two hours and 13 minutes. A real achievement would have snipped it down to less than two hours. I am with Hugh Grant on this: ""Oompa Loompa doompety dong, most of these films were, frankly, too long,"

But it is, of course, good. (And, after some initial ads, streaming on Peacock.) It is set in 1970-1971. Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, an Ancient Civilization teacher at "Barton Academy", an all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts. (IMDB says it was filmed at a number of actual schools around the state.) Hunham is a cranky, hard-grading tyrant in the classroom, widely disrespected for his lazy eye and pungent odor. It's a time of ferment, and the school's headmaster also despises him for his willingness to flunk the sons of school donors.

And he's roped into taking care of the "holdovers", students who have nowhere to go for the school's Christmas break. Among these hapless students is Angus, a rebellious but intelligent student who's already been kicked out of three prep schools. (Next stop is a no-nonsense military academy, which Angus dreads, but can't seem to avoid his trajectory.)

Also on hand is the school's head cook, Mary (played by Ms. Randolph); she's Aftican-American, obese, and in mourning for her son Curtis, a graduate of Barton, killed in Vietnam. Even though she's invited to her sister's place in Roxbury, she'd rather hole up at Barton over Christmas with her grief.

The chemistry between the characters is believable. Their antics over break are occasionally zany, often poignant and revealing. This includes an impromptu "field trip" to Boston, which the filmmakers diligently reconstruct, down to the storefronts and cars. (For New Englanders: the view of the Boston skyline includes the Prudential Center, but not the John Hancock Tower.) Where's the Oscar nomination for Production Design?

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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I was in the mood for some violent mindless entertainment. This worked OK for that. It is a sequel to The Hitman's Bodyguard which I watched back in 2020. And I will mildly recommend you watch that one first if you haven't. "Mildly" because it won't ruin your life if you don't. Maybe some things won't make sense, but who cares? This isn't the kind of movie where you really need to know what's going on.

If you scrunch up your eyes at that movie poster on your right, you'll note that Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas are in this. I was going to say this is the first time that Antonio and Salma were in a movie since Desperado… but then I checked with IMDB and (duh) it turns out they've been in 11 movies together, including Spy Kids 3: Game Over. So bad on me.

Ryan Reynolds (the bodyguard), on the advice of his shrink, takes a nice vacation to recover from the shame of being stripped of his bodyguard license. No sooner does he settle in, when (a) Salma Hayek (wife) shows up begging for help in freeing her hubby, Samuel Jackson (hitman), and (b) large numbers of people try to kill them both. They prevail, of course. And they're off on their rescue mission. But it soon develops that they have to foil a nefarious plot to cripple Europe's network infrastructure. All this involves a lot of gunplay, fisticuffs, and explosions.

As was true in the previous movie, this is a definite go-to if you would like to hear Salma talk dirty.

Last Modified 2024-02-17 9:58 AM EDT

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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At two hours and 43 minutes, this really could have used some tightening up. The gunfights, fistfights, knife fights, chase scenes, etc. just seem to go on and on. And there's a lot of Tom Cruise running. Impressive endurance and speed for a guy his age, but …

Guilty confession: it took me three tries to watch this all the way through; I kept falling asleep. I assume (like Top Gun Maverick) that it would have been better to watch in a movie theater, but I just didn't make it.

The plot seems to be an afterthought, not particularly coherent, just an excuse for all the running around, but as I understand it: there's an evil sentient AI afoot, dubbed the "Entity". The opening scene has it compelling a Russian submarine to (essentially) commit suicide. There's a key involved, which has two parts that must be fitted together. It does something important, something to do with "source code", but the Entity seems to operate just fine without the key in the ignition. The Entity has a human accomplice, Gabriel, who, years back, killed a lady Ethan Hunt was fond of. Captain America's girlfriend, Hayley Atwell, manages to snag one part of the key, which gets her involved. Two blond ladies of dubious morals. A desert shootout. A traitorous higher-up, see if you can pick him, or her, out.

All of that's fine, but I kind of miss the somewhat more laid-back TV show.

Another gripe: long, intense scenes where a group of people sit around and do plot exposition, each actor dropping a line in turn about what has happened, or needs to happen next. You get the feeling everyone's telling everyone else what they already know.

And yet, sure, I'm on board for Part Two. Probably in the theater.

The Equalizer 3

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
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Darn, I likes me some Denzel Washington. Especially in his role as the nearly-indestructible Robert McCall.

For reasons unexplained until the very end of the movie, McCall is in Italy, wreaking his brand of "equalization" on a criminal organization with shady ties to terrorism and drug trafficking. Thanks to a small error in judgment, he barely escapes with his life, and needs to spend some recuperation time in a scenic Sicilian village.

Which is unfortunately the target of a different organized crime family, also a very nasty bunch.

It's very violent! I seem to recall that McCall avoided using guns in the first two Equalizer movies. Not so here!

Fun fact: Dakota Fanning plays a resourceful CIA agent with a mysterious relationship to McCall. Twenty years ago she was in Man on Fire with Denzel Washington, when she was about ten years old.

And it occurs to me that if you want to understand that "mysterious relationship", and how it's subtly revealed at the end, you need to remember key characters from The Equalizer and The Equalizer 2. Watch those first, if you haven't.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 9:13 AM EDT

Leave the World Behind

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Leave the World Behind]

Julia Roberts has a great idea: arrange for a small vacay out on Long Island without telling her husband (Ethan Hawke) ahead of time. You'd think that would be a pretty good sitcom premise, but no, this is an end-of-the-world thriller. They're off to a very nice AirBnB house near the beach with their teenage son and preteen daughter.

Things start going a little off when (preview-level spoiler) their trip to the beach is interrupted by an oil tanker running aground right in front of them. And later, the house's owner, a black guy (Mahershala Ali), shows up at the doorstep with his daughter (Myha'la). At least that's what they claim. Julia's kind of suspicious about that.

Eventually, it becomes undeniable that something really bad is going on in the country. The Internet goes out, phones go out, the TV goes out, deer start acting funny,… power stays on, though. And, did I mention the Teslas? No? Good, that would have been a spoiler.

Everyone, including the kids, drop the f-word a lot.

It's way too long (two hours). The theme of heightened paranoia between countrymen is as subtle as that oil tanker running aground. (I blame the preview of that oil tanker for gulling me into watching the movie.)

And (oh yeah) there are unexpected names in the opening credits: executive producers Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. Apparently producing tedious movies is one of their gigs now.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 5:21 AM EDT